(March 7, 2008 STILLWATER, Okla.) – Oklahoma development of biofuels is getting a high-octane boost, thanks to a new $1.2 million bioenergy laboratory being constructed at Oklahoma State University, west of the Stillwater campus.
Gov. Brad Henry, former Gov. Henry Bellmon, members of the Oklahoma legislature, industry leaders, OSU Regents, and new OSU President Burns Hargis and other university officials were on campus March 7 to celebrate what the new laboratory heralds in terms of advancing biofuels benefits for the state, region and nation.
“I applaud OSU for its breakthrough work in bioenergy,” said Gov. Henry. “This new facility will enhance Oklahoma’s collective ability to make more rapid progress in solving widespread energy needs, lessening national dependence on foreign oil and strengthening the state’s energy industry.”
The 3,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art laboratory is being funded through the university and the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station, a statewide agency that is part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
“This new facility will house additional, larger scale equipment that will advance the discovery process,” said Hargis. “Across our campus, OSU researchers are engaging in creative and imaginative problem-solving, and OSU biofuels research is a shining example of the benefits we are providing to our state and our nation.”
“Our scientists and engineers have been committed to developing biofuels, since the early 1990s,” said Robert E. Whitson, DASNR dean and director and vice president of agricultural programs at OSU. “The more than $1 million we’re providing to the laboratory through the experiment station is one of many ways in which the division is seeking to solve complex issues associated with the production of bioenergy.”
The OSU Biofuels Team is a multi-college, multi-institutional effort, with the current team encompassing scientists and engineers within the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology; the University of Oklahoma; and Brigham Young University.
Current OSU biofuels research that will be enhanced by the new bioenergy laboratory includes development of gasification-fermentation conversion technology, utilizing thermo tolerant yeast in enzymatic hydrolysis and direct fermentation of sweet sorghum juice.
“These conversion processes represent a significant component of our holistic approach in converting Oklahoma crops and associated residues toward the creation of cost-effective biofuels,” said Ray Huhnke, DASNR biosystems engineer and coordinator of OSU’s multi-institutional biofuels team.
Huhnke said the new laboratory will provide immediate benefits in the scale-up of OSU’s syngas fermentation research supported by and licensed to Coskata Inc., a national biology based renewable energy company.
Coskata Inc. and automotive giant General Motors made an international splash in early January when they announced their cooperative plans to reduce fossil fuel consumption, thanks in part to Coskata’s “next generation ethanol” process based on research and technology developed by the OSU Biofuels Team.
The Stillwater-based laboratory also will support a number of OSU bioconversion research projects funded through the $40 million Oklahoma Bioenergy Center established by Gov. Henry last year, a three-way partnership between OSU, OU and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
Whitson said the laboratory also will enhance the division and university’s ability to attract additional funding for industrial and manufacturing collaborations, and expand opportunities for OSU undergraduate and graduate students to explore the latest technological advances and applications of knowledge.
“We have long believed and promoted that an interdisciplinary outlook is the best way to develop solutions to the challenges facing society,” Whitson said, citing the $10 million in special legislative appropriations that DASNR is contributing toward the Institute for Agricultural Biosciences in Ardmore, part of the division’s statewide experiment station system.
The new OSU Bioenergy Laboratory is another example of the division and university’s recognized leadership in biobased product development and technology transfer, such as being selected to serve as the South Central Regional Center for the national Sun Grant Initiative.
The South-Central Region provides funding to scientists and engineers at land-grant universities in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. The Sun Grant Initiative is a national program established to create new solutions for America’s energy needs and to revitalize rural communities by working with land-grant universities and their federal and state laboratory partners on research, education and extension programs.